Monday, August 10, 2020

Lebanese diaspora: My people are dead

I could not think of how to express a uniting feeling I experienced, saw, read, and heard from Lebanese living abroad, even from those who grew up in countries of adoption.

This text written in 1916 by Kahlil Gebran, the author of ''The Prophet'' best express the pain.

' ' My people are dead ' - Kahlil Gebran (1916)

Mine die, and I, still living, in my solitude, I mourn them my people died and I am here, in this distant country, wandering among a joyful people who sleep on fluffy beds. My people died of a painful death and I am here who lives in abundance and in peace I do not live with my persecuted people, who walk in the procession of death towards martyrdom.

I'm here, on the other side of the ocean that lives in the shadow of peace and in the light of peace. I'm so far from the miserable arena and affliction that I can't even be proud of my tears.

The death of my people is a silent accusation; it is a crime fomented by the heads of invisible snakes, it is a tragedy without text.

My people died while their hands stretched east and west, while their empty orbits looked at the darkness of the firmament.

He died in silence because humanity remained deaf to his calls. He died because he didn't sympathize with his enemies, he died because he placed his trust in all humanity, because he was the stomped flowers and not the foot that crushes. He died because he was a builder of peace, because the monsters of hell stood up, destroyed everything, because vipers and children of vipers spit poison in space where the holy cedars, roses and the jasmines exhale their perfumes.

Artist - Allan Debs 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Lebanese youth says: I am at the stage of grief where it is just anger and fury

Malek is a young man who grew up in Lebanon during civil war years. He survived and thrived with many dreams. He succeeded carrier wise, but as many he ended up working outside Lebanon.

His favorite quotes:

"Some people see things the way they are and say, 'why?... I see things that never were and say, 'why not?' ". George Bernard Shaw

"Freedom is not worth having if it doesn't include the freedom to make mistakes". Mahatma Gandhi

"I was taught honesty from a liar" Gebran Khalil Gebran

He posted a text I found representative of a whole Lebanese generation.

I am sharing it with you, he speaks for many.

Today I am at the stage of grief where it is just anger and fury.

This catastrophe did not just show the profound depth of the ruling parties' level of incompetence, but their blatant disregard for human life at an unimaginable level.

Not only have they not opened up their wallets and given back a part of the money they very openly stole and plundered, but they have barely done anything in the last 48 hours to quell the fear and pain of a suffering population.

Speeches are half-assed essays that read like emails full of blame dodging, empty promises, and rinse and repeat topics. No accountability whatsoever on those clearly responsible for the catastrophe, regardless of whatever secret motive might be looming in the background, and general disregard to any sense of decency and respect to a nation in utter disarray.

Some politicians openly joke, these other ones smile, these ones hark back to the days of the civil war, and others ask secterian questions as to why certain areas were hit harder than others. All while people still fail to properly understand what has happened and the magnitude at which it has happened both in and out of Lebanon.

Even worse is that they are fully aware that the people absolutely hate and loathe them, which in part has lead to their decreased or isolated public appearances. Convoys blocking off access to the public, goons unleashed to retaliate on the rightfully expressed anger of the nation, and mindless drones that obey every command for reasons completely unknown.

This is without mentioning the fact that foreign leaders openly express their complete lack of trust in these same politicians, to their bloody faces, only to have politicians nod and smile.

I look around and see endless videos of civilians doing their best to clean up and help each other understand and cope with what has happened. Civilians banding together with civil defense sweeping glass, debris, and going through wreckage that carries utterly devastating realizations of broken realities.

All while the army chills by the side of the roads or on their tanks, and the internal security forces smoke their cigarettes and point to where civilians have missed a spot.

And every day you talk to someone new or check up on a friend or relative and the same statement constantly repeats itself. 

I am lucky to be alive.


Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Austria is a good model in the fight against Covid-19

26 Oct 2020
Where did it go wrong?
  • The virologist Elisabeth Puchhammer-Stöckl from the Medical University of Vienna has warned that the country is losing control of the chains of infection.
  • Detailed analyses in Vienna have shown that “infections are already being acquired in an unclear manner in public space (…),” was Puchhammer-Stöckl quoted.
  • To the Austrian daily Kleine Zeitung, Puchhammer-Stöckl said “more and more people do not know where they infected themselves.”
  • The practice of contact tracing – long seen as the ideal way to break infection chains early – is under strain under the massive count of new cases in recent weeks.
In short
After the Austrian government took increasingly drastic measures in March to contain the coronavirus, the country successfully flattened the curve in April, and gradually reopened shops, schools and restaurants again in May.

Life in Vienna got back to something like normality with summer arriving in June, while newly rising numbers in July have prompted regional lockdowns, quarantine, travel warnings and targeted measures. In August, the CoV-Ampel was introduced, and measures were gradually tightened.

In September, with cases rising again at a swift pace, stricter measures have been introduced and people were asked to limit private gatherings to 10 people at max.

With numbers high but stable at the moment, October brings new challenges in dealing with the pandemic.

There is a need to look at the data and wonder why the measures are not working. They are widely accepted by people who are complying. Where does the problem lies? Mutations? Schools? or something else we did not think about....

Update 8 September
Smart back to school planning in #Austria. The RO is now 1.02 which is good. And there are no orange of red lights. The EU system of rating which is cumulative cases by 100,000 inhabitants is flawed. If testing increase then surely infection numbers increase!

Update September 7, 2020:
Seems Austria is taking proper measures to face the new outbreak, results were quick.
  • 290 new corona cases were reported within the last 24 hours, indicating that the number of new infections is declining again. 
  • The crucial reproduction number (R) this Friday fell to 1.02 from 1.14 a week before – that means, one infected person currently infects on average another 1.02 people. Health authorities ascribe falling R to a decrease of new cases from travelers coming back from their holidays in countries with higher infection risk.

Update 1 September
  • Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) gave a press conference today updating the population on the coronavirus situation.
  • “It’s possible that there will be a vaccine already in January,” Anschober said. In the best case, he expects 600,000 doses for 300,000 people around year’s end.
  • With the first vaccine batch, professionals in the health care sector and at care centers should be vaccinated. Later in the year, everybody who wants to be vaccinated should get the option.
  • The minister hopes that up to five vaccinations from different producers will be available throughout the next year.
  • Hygiene measures, wearing masks, good ventilation (open windows) for rooms and more vaccinations for the seasonal flu will continue to be important pillars for containing the virus over the coming months, Anschober underlined.
  • Concerning current coronavirus numbers – the number of active cases in Austria rose from 1,300 in July to 3,300 at the moment – Anschober said: “This number is too high too soon. The virus was never gone, but is more visible again.” However, as long as the clusters can be tracked and traced, this would still be manageable, the minister emphasized.
  • The coronavirus “traffic light system” (Corona-Ampel) that has been prepared and tested by the government over the last couple of months will also be activated this week.
  • Different colors for regions and districts will activate new regional measures.

Update August 28, 2020:
Despite the slight rise in infection rates Austria seems to be fearing well.

Medicine has got better at treating patients with COVID-19 at different stages of the disease, leading to much lower rates of serious and fatal cases.
As a result, hospitalization rates for COVID-19 in Austria have remained relatively low and stable during the last months.

In September, the family package of the government will pay out €360 for every child living in Austria.
Moreover, the first income tax bracket will be lowered from 25% to 20% retroactively for this entire year, a measure that is meant to put more money into the pockets of employees.
The whole package will cost €2.7 billion and is a part of a whole array of stimulus measures aimed to help the economy recover from its corona-induced break.
Economic forecasts have also been adjusted recently.
For Austria, the WIFO now expects a slump of -6.8% – harsh, but better than the forecasts of June (-7%) and April (-7.5%).
For the European Union as a whole, the OECD is now expecting a drop of -9.1%.
In the meantime, Austrian industry has already recovered to the levels seen in 2015, faster than industry in the eurozone and in neighboring Germany.

The Austrian tourism industry reported -44.6% fewer overnight stays in the months May to July 2020, compared to last year. Nevertheless, the rebound after the reopening was stronger than expected. In July 2020, there were “only” -17.2% less overnight stays than last year, with domestic tourism up (+15.2%) and tourist stays from abroad down (-28.7%).
This compares well with France (-55.7%) and Italy.

Update August 21, 2020:

Something went wrong in fully opening the country to tourism and public events. 
The number of new coronavirus cases detected in the last 14 days compared to the two weeks before increased by 46% in the United Kingdom and by 69% in Austria.
While Austria has successfully flattened the curve early on, thus containing the virus and keeping the number of deaths from COVID-19 relatively low (729 at present), the UK took longer – leading to one of the most severe outbreaks in Europe (with 41,397 fatalities at present) – and then shut down harder.
As a consequence, the easing measures came earlier and were more sweeping in Austria – making higher numbers of reinfections down the road relatively more likely – while large swathes of UK public life are still on standby.
Germany who did well and was moving along the same line in Austria and Germany is still doing well. Need to consider why.

Update 7 August 2020
Reintroducing face masks in Supermarkets and closed areas was a good quick action. It proves effective. Lesson learned.

Update 30 July
On Rathausplatz | Opera and Ballet Are Still Larger Than Life
The city of Vienna is keeping 'culture for all' alive, even during coronavirus times.
Update 23 July
Seems a harsh measure. Yet, it was a careless action that might have resulted in infecting many other people. Face masks protect us all from such actions. We can never be sure that all citizens are responsible. Sad, but true.

  • The first trial in Austria concerning the breach of coronavirus containment measures kicked off today in Carinthia.
  • The defendant is a 49-year-old woman from Klagenfurt who was tested positive for COVID-19 and was thus obliged to self-isolate at home.
  • Nevertheless, she went to the supermarket and the post office without a mask.
  • The woman is charged with having breached the quarantine restrictions deliberately and carelessly (i.e. not wearing a mask), endangered others to catch a dangerous disease.
  • The maximum penalty is up to three years in prison.
  • The trial is the first of its kind in Austria; a future ruling is already considered to become a landmark in how to adjudicate breaches of coronavirus measures in the country.

Some time ago I wrote a blog wondering if Austria was winning the war against Covid-19.

Drastic and coordinated measures were taken in March to contain the corona virus from lock down to preparedness in the health system. Austrians positively accepted the measures abiding by social distancing and other recommendations. The government implemented an effective testing and tracking policy.

In April the country successfully flattened the curve and achieved one of the lowest death rate in Europe.

The government gradually reopened shops, schools and restaurants again in May. By June life was almost normal.

First of June face masks were no more mandatory in all close places. 
If one looks at the data, it is very clear that it was not a wise decision.

Almost 800,000 tests have been carried out in Austria. That means almost every tenth citizen of Austria has been tested since the beginning of the pandemic.
With cases rising again in Austria; society is trying to find a new balance between containing the virus and living daily life through focused testing, tracking and tracing.

July 21, 2020:

  • Starting this Friday, July 24, wearing a mask will again be mandatory in supermarkets as well as in banks and post offices
  • Many new cases had their origins abroad, particularly in the Balkans, which is why Austria will strengthen border control measures and control quarantine measures for travelers more stringently.
  • Several new clusters in recent weeks were identified within church congregations, which is why masses and other services will also be reduced in frequency going forward.
  • The government publish “corona traffic light system” for Austrian regions in August. 
  • Scientists at the Technical University of Vienna and the University of Vienna are working on an ambitious corona virus test program in the sewage plants of 20 Austrian cities.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Aya Sohia return to a mosque: an attack on modern Turkey?

Some time ago I wrote blog celebrating Turkey's secularism. I was hopeful.
Today, with the decision to strip Hagia Sophia, also known as Aya Sofia from museum status, paving its return to a mosque, I am sad.

The Hagia Sophia that stands today was originally built as the cathedral for the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire in the sixth century, and became a mosque in 1453 with the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. It remained a Muslim house of worship until the early 20th century, when the Turkish government secularized the Hagia Sofia and turned it into a museum in 1934. More than 50 years later, UNESCO included Hagia Sophia as part of its Historic Areas of Istanbul World Heritage Site.

For me Aya Sofia is not Christian or Muslim or Roman. It is a cultural historical heritage. So sad to see Erdogan undermining the secular soul of Turkey. So sad to see that one person was able to undermine secularism and democracy in a beautiful and great country. I still have hope that the people of Turkey will take a stand.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Turkish perception of isolation

Having visited Turkey, quite often during the last few years, I got to love the country and the people.
Istanbul is a city where many cultures and civilizations have met, warred, and blended. Wherever you walk you can see it in the monuments and architecture, and whatever you eat you can taste the rich diversity. The melting pot shaped a modern Turkish citizen that is proud, friendly, hardworking, and generous.

What I wrote sounds like a tourist promotion brochure, yet I deeply felt it throughout my stays in Turkey. 

What affected me deeply is a scene I saw in a popular part of Istanbul. 

The area is known for its high concentration of religious people. Sitting in a side cafe, I was facing a small very old mosque built in the old tradition of sand stones. Just in front of the Mosque entrance is a tramway station. I noticed, standing at the station a nice young couple dressed and behaving as any couple in love would in Vienna, Paris, or any other European city. It was Friday prayer time. The next scene was of men getting out of the Mosque passing near the couple that were now kissing. The body language and the eye expression of all the actors indicated without doubt that there is no tension or strain in the acceptance of the men going out of the mosque to the presence of a couple kissing close by the door of the Mosque. For all the actors in the scene was a regular everyday occurrence. 

You might wonder why this scene impressed me. In Egypt, or Pakistan, or Amman, or even in Lebanon, such a scene is not an everyday occurrence. The men getting out of the Mosque would have been offended and might have even badmouth the couple. The couple would have been conscious of being in front of a Mosque and would have been uncomfortable to touch each other or even, in some countries stand in front of a Mosque. In Gulf countries, it is unfathomable.

It is so sad that today Turkish people feel under attack. The citizens of Turkey are proud to be Muslims and proud to live in a secular democratic country. They do not understand why Europe is treating them badly. They were united, opposition and Erdogan party against the military coup. The EU did not show solidarity. Turkey is often accused of supporting terrorism, yet no Turkish citizen engaged in Islamic terrorism or extremism. Europe is obsessed by the Kurdish issue without consideration that the separatist Kurdish movement is adopting terrorist tactics. What would Spain say if Turkey supported the Basque cause? 

Whether the above is justified or not, these are the thoughts you get when you talk to many Turkish citizens. Whether they support Erdogan or not, they feel under attack.

It is time for the European Union to realize that they are antagonizing the population of Turkey. 
It is time to make the necessary overtures to the people of Turkey by understanding their fears.
The Turkish model is the best path to fighting Islamic extremism.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Syrian saga: a post from 2012, neocolonialism?

I came today a post published by a friend in 2012.
It made me think about how much humanity can turn an eye on state violence and the hurt that ensues.
Lives destroyed, families separated, future hope lost, ambition killed...
How can we turn a bling eye. I do not understand

June 30, 2012
Anan, the Tsar of neo-colonialism!
A nightmarish vision struck me from a place near the serene lac of Geneva. I almost retched from the rotten smell of lies, dealing wheeling, and compromise. 
Just imagine the picture of an army indiscriminately shelling its people side to side with Anan wearing his suit and tie, speaking like a Lord to say just nothing, blaming the victim. Then move to the picture of Clinton, Lavrov, and all the other British, Turkish, and Arab gnomes smiling and shaking hands side to side with the picture of children slaughtered by their army. 
These people were discussing the fate of a whole population, disregarding the hopes of a people without having the decency to invite the Syrian people to the discussion. I wonder why. Are they subhuman, incapable of deciding their fates? This is what was said of the people of India, the Middle East, China, Japan, and many other lands during the colonial era. Today Kofi Anan is saying that the Syrian people are a minor population. He did not have the decency to state the facts, to say that Assad refused to apply his plan and he goes around like a pontiff trying to save the barbarians from themselves.
Obama cannot hear the cries for freedom in Syria, he has more pressing and important issues to address, being elected one of them. The Russians envy Assad ability of bomb dissension, Putin would love to be able to do it openly at home. And the others are just puny and do not count. 
This is the face of neo colonialism. What they forgot is the American War of Independence and the Bolshevik revolution. What they forget is that a people in a small country called Syria did not relent to dance and chant for freedom in the street, under the fire, bombing, and shelling of the Assad regime. These people said “death is better than living without hope”. Anan, Clinton, and Lavrov might smile and make deals, at the end, the Syrian people will surprise you and break the chains of dictatorship and neo colonialism.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Lebanon yesterday and today in pictures






Updated 10 August 2020

Our salvation is our people and their resilience

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Is Lebanese media failing?

Update 8 Aug 2020

Macron arrived in Lebanon three days after a deadly blast tore through the capital . Macron walked through Beirut's damaged streets as crowds jostled around him chanting for the government to "fall" and asking for international aid.
He promised locals a "new political pact", and would give the Lebanese government until September 1 to impose it.
During a press conference on Thursday evening, he said French aid to Lebanon will be channeled "directly towards NGOs" and promised to organise an aid conference with the EU in the coming days.
But he warned there would be "no blank cheque to a system that doesn't have the confidence of the people." He called for an independent investigation into the causes of the explosion.
“There is a political, moral, economic and financial crisis that has lasted several months, several years. This implies strong political responsibility,” Macron said, adding that he discussed addressing corruption and other urgent reforms with Lebanon's president and prime minister.
“I came here to show the support of the French nation for the Lebanese people,” Macron said.

Clearly Macron took off his diplomatic gloves during the press conference. Sadly if you hear the questions asked, you will be disappointed. Very clearly they prepared superficial questions, did not hear the answers, and did not follow up, they just asked!
Macron himself said that they were not hearing his answers and will not answer any question that was already asked. Sad, why is it that Lebanese media is failing so badly when we know there are very competent journalists. Sadly these competent journalists never attend press conferences. Opportunities are lost and press conferences are disarmed.

In comparison,

No comment!

Updated 25 July 2020

I repeat, yes it is!
Le Drian, on the first such visit of a top foreign politician in months, made no secret of his exasperation with a leadership he described as "passive".
"Concrete actions have been expected for too long," Le Drian said, in a statement to the press after meeting his counterpart Nassif Hitti.
What is not advertise is his saying that he never saw  such a 'forest' of microphone.
And then the shouting match started with journalists fighting to ask questions, none of which made real sense.
An image that is far removed from the 1970s when Lebanon offered a unique cultural openness and freedom of expression. Beirut was the region’s media hub.

It is clear that today
The media sector faces the risk of flattening over the polarising tendencies based on confessional and ideological lines, tending to prefer populist narratives to cope with the financial and legitimacy crisis. (Media Landscapes created by the European Journalism Centre, in partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science)

Posted 21 May 2020

Yes, it is! And honestly it saddens me and angers me.
Lebanese media is free we say. Meaning that they can publish and say what they want.
True. But what are they saying?
I would say uttering nonsense or nineties and here lies the problem.
They lack professionalism.

Written media who used to be well respected has been brought down by financial restrictions they say. I have subscriptions in more than a newspaper in an effort of support. Honestly I rarely am encouraged to read any of the articles. They do not give me anything.
Written media's strength in the age of social media and online publishing is analysis and sources.
Background research is lacking and there is real sources that provide something that is not being said everywhere by bloggers or just 'social media posters'.

Television and radio are not better. The News section starts with a 'prelude' that states the channel opinion in prose. Unbelievable! The political interviews section which is very powerful as to audience is a real mess. The strategy is to bring a guest and just bombard him with clichés that 'the other side' says. And then defend the cliché' vehemently interrupting the guest with populist statements with no effort to check these statement or rely on any reasonable or knowledgeable arguments. Even if the guest has interesting information to add, they circumvent him by forcing him to defend against stupidities.
They try to emulate Tim Sebastian in HardTalk forgetting that Sebastian relies on information when facing a guest and not 'clichés!

As to investigative journalism, forget it. I know that investigative journalism needs resources. But honestly it does need lots of resources to just compile information and generate an interesting document in the time of covid-19 crisis. There is no place on a newspaper or TV or  website where I can see a comprehensive analysis of the numbers in Lebanon or tracing or anything other.

I am disappointed, surely it is not a lack of resources. It is just walking the easy road. 
No effort or work ethics. 
No background research or investigative efforts. 
Freedom is not saying anything and everything. 
It is the role of the media to present their audience with balanced and informative material.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Soul searching: Lebanon under lock-down and capital controls

Update 10 July 2020: a post I read today made me realize that more and more people are taken hostage in a situation that they feel powerless to change.

The country is out of business and waiting to figure out what sauce we are going to be in, I admit I can no longer read the opinions of specialists, politicians, Lebanese ordinary and other questionable patron.
I don't have an opinion anymore because I don't know the true of the fake anymore... I mustn't be the only one in this case 😔
All I'm sure is that it will take years before we get up from these quicksand, it will be terrible and painful for all of us
So I'm painting! I paint this ideal Lebanon in my world. Have I really experienced it one day or just imagined it? I don't even know anymore
I had painted this painting in the early days of the "Thawra" but decided, a few days ago to transform it.
Marry Lebanese joy at the safe haven of my delighted world reassures me and reminds me that in life everything remains possible
One country, a flag 

This email made me wonder about the psychological well being of the Lebanese society.

I do not know what is happening to me, or let us say that I do not want to know.
I think I am clinically depressed for the first time in my life.
And it frightens me.

At the surface I am fine, no anxiety or lack of sleep or bad thoughts, it is as if I am euphoric. I just want to read, take care of the house, watch movies, hear news.... I cannot really concentrate on work or anything other than mundane tasks.
I have managed until now to sail through my work without too much damage, but it will catch with me soon with a hit on the head, if I go on like that.

In addition it is as if I am happy with self isolation....
Usually when I used to face war or  political upheaval, it was a battle and I was in drive mode.
Now it is as if there is no battle to do, just slip into life...

Am sure it is the uncertainty of coronavirus crisis that turned my life upside down; from perpetual movement to sedentary life unable to plan anything.
Self isolation has removed humanity from my life. Meeting people online is not the same. You cannot bathe is their energy, you cannot feel the vibes emanating from their body language, you cannot smell them or touch them....

The Lebanon crisis and its financial implications have caught up with me.
Living under uncertainty of the future since October 2019 without any direction or the slightness iota of hope is not easy.
All I feel is the unfairness of loosing all my savings, loosing the hope for a decent future after having worked so hard all my life. After being 'successful' in my career.
I cannot even find solace in saying, ''I should have''. I could have done nothing.
Maybe I should have cut ties with Lebanon, I should have left the country and built my life somewhere else. I should have left a country that thrives on corruption and political procrastination.
I had options but could not cut the umbilical cord with a country I loved. 
A country today I hate and mourn over losing it.

Combined together, the corona crisis and capital controls wrestled me to the ground.
What can I do, how to face this?

Friday, April 24, 2020

Daily life under lock-down in Lebanon

I though that the best way to convey the feel of the country is by publishing threads of emails and messages that I asked some Lebanese friends to share with me some of their correspondence.

Yesterday Tripoli was witnessing an unreal scene of violence. 
On the night of April 27, hundreds of protesters, in defiance of the Covid-19 lockdown, gathered in Tripoli’s Nour Square to protest the rapidly deteriorating standards of living during Lebanon’s economic crisis. Dozens of protesters torched and otherwise damaged banks, set an army vehicle on fire, and threw stones and fireworks at the soldiers. The soldiers fired live ammunition, rubber bullets, and teargas at protesters.
Received today an email that touched my soul. Am sharing it here. 
28 April 2020
I do not know if I can take on more pressure and tension. I have been living under uncertainty and fear since October 2019 when Lebanon protests started, and then came the corona mess, and now the country is exploding in anger. Irrational anger against the banks. Seems that people are targeting what they see in front of them. The problem is that now the President has succeeded in drawing the army into the conflict putting it to face the anger of the people. My levels of stress is escalating. I try to keep it together, but how can one add the stress of corona to the stress to looking at an uncertain future, losing everything, and no hope for improvement. I am reaching desperation.... 

23 April 2020
The lock-down is getting to everybody!
Yesterday, finished work at 7 pm was late due to various interruptions on Skype, barely poured by drink when my brother Zoomed... He got the sister and one of the cousins - by the time we finished (2 sessions) I was out.
This morning, I was planning to start on work - this got interrupted by "Microsoft Teams meeting...", this lead me to deal with several monkey issues.. This is becoming endless... PUFFFfffffffff....
Can't people go and find something else to do with their time????
Now will finish other mundane issues to clear me mind to focus on the task.
Yalla Kisses and sorry for venting...
Will try to catch you this evening for sure... 
Answer:  Try to do like me, mute Skype and WhatsApp. I just keep hangouts on as only used by my close friends and family, but then they rarely call :)
Replied:  You are right, too much noise coming through all those applications...
Oh, not to mention the phones (mobile & landline)... I miss our old number pre area code era... LOL it rarely worked. Love it.
Yalla back to work (akeed after doing the laundry...)
22 April 2020
I finally lost hope in Lebanon. The comments and declarations I am hearing from the ''thawra'' or Lebanon Protest, whoever they are and if they really represent all the people who took to the street, are childish and along the same lines as Lebanese arrogance ''I am right, I want to talk, I do not want to hear or analyse''.
Also the continuous nagging and protesting, even the new measures that will solve the purchase power of citizens is being criticized, all they want is a dolarised economy. ''We want everything and we do not care if it is possible or not!''
Most of what I hear are just cliches and statements that they consider as Bible or Koran, even if they have no base in reality and do not pass checks and balance.
Ahhh, I should stop hearing the Lebanese!
No hope for this country! We are a stupid, arrogant, ignorant, narcissist bunch of people!
Sorry 😊 I need to vent! 
20 April 2020
Seems that we are doomed to live our lives in this region in vagueness without ever having any clarity... I am not optimistic. The choice you took to live in civilized lands was the correct one.
Now on a positive note, Beirut is still calm, quite, clean, with very little pollution...
Answered:  See, there is a good side, less pollution and noise pollution! 😜
My dear friend, long ago I moved to a more developed world that is closer to the Lebanon I grew up in. And was lucky to chose one of the best countries in the world of sanity. Yet, even though I saw Lebanon gradually eroding to become a country I barely recognize; I remained perched between two worlds with so many emotional and material connection to Lebanon. I quote: Beirut is a curse, you can't live in it, and you cannot live without it!
Replied:  Indeed good philosophy, we cannot contest, as it's true. I wonder when it will become totally unrecognizable. I do not dare think more and will only enjoy the calm and nice air quality. Once lock-down lifts, will loose those.  I do not think that people learned something from the lock-down, like the positive effect on the environment... Alas, habits do not change quickly...
10 April 2020
I hate myself! I order a big four cheeses pizza this evening!
I cannot forgive myself.
Mea culpa!
Answer:  But of course! What do you expect to happen???
I decided to fry an egg now!
This lockdown business in good for the food industry! Hummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...................... I wonder! Conspiracy!
18 April 2020
Lovely evening.
Lovely email... Sounded like you had a lovely and very enjoyable day... Add productive to that on the personal level...
From my side, also did not work today. Went to he mountains and saw the in-laws (they are fine) a bit on the lonely side though. Frustrating for them to be alone for Easter. As you said, que sera sera... We have lovely warm weather, sat in the sun for 10 minutes...
Then came back, Zoomed with friends.
At 6:45 pm had to run down and walk the dog upon his request, although he has been roaming freely in the big garden and terraces around the village house. Amazing these little walking poop production factories...
There was a bit of movement today in Beirut and along the road to mountains. Also some movement up there - maybe prior to Easter Sunday! When I was walking now, just before the curfew at 7 - amazing how the roads emptied up so sudden... The city is so silent and tranquil - love it... Only sound audible now is coming from the church down the street... A mix of tolling bells and prayer over the loud speakers! At least it is not very invasive or intrusive... LOL...
16 April 2020
So sad for Lebanon ... and so angry at the media stupidly uttering about success in facing Covid-19! Just read the the city of Vienna (1.5 million inhabitants, just like Beirut) is providing 5,000 laptops to young pupils who currently have to follow classes from home but might not have suitable devices. All they did in Beirut was to 'as they say' increase band width!
Answer:  What facing of Covid? We stuck our heads in the sand - stayed at home in lock-down! Meanwhile, a good chunk of people situation worsening by the day.. We only see what suits us; the ''Switzerland of the Orient'' image! 
13 April 2020
Good morning...
We forget and do not learn....
Love the German reopening plan you posted ...
I wonder what will happen on this side and how they will do it!?
Now I wonder how we will adapt when we go back to "normal work" - need to consult my therapist.... Will keep you posited.
12 April 2020
I have to confess my sins of the day;
I took a very politically incorrect ride today, and did all the areas that start with "B" just like "Beirut".  In this run, I exchanged some Bollars in Barbir at 2,700/1, also bought 1Bg of fancy B(s)udanes Beanuts....
Oh - I might add that I might be adding some Bgs... 
31 March 2020
God, how many stupidity I hear by so called experts! They mix dictatorship vs capitalism, then talk about the death of globalization as if coronavirus the end of globalization while in fact it is the proof that no country can isolate itself. Then they boast that Lebanon is doing better than Europe taking Italy as an example as to death rate neglecting Germany, Austria and many others. Also neglecting that in Lebanon 5000 test done vs about 60,000 in Austria which would translate in 30,000 test if we calculate according to population. This not mentioning the fact that in Europe, nobody will die of hunger because he is not working! They forget the human factor and economic measures when boasting about how Lebanon handling of coronavirus!
Answer:  You are making a big mistake!
The problem, is that you are "listening" to these so called experts!
End of argument and I rest my case... 
Another reply on reply:  *Those so called experts.... (correction of previous email grammatical error).  Oh and we are immune to everything -- seems that you forgot this important fact!!! Shame  on you... 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Trump is a populist, but WHO is not free of blame

Trump is a populist who masters the art of redirecting blame.
Yet, away from the trend of demonizing everything Trump says or does, we need to take a look at the WHO and China.

From what I read and observed in various countries, the WHO is not beyond blame.

Timeline of Covid-19 spread from China to the world
The Guardian-the inside story of the WHO's response to coronavirus

By end December the WHO received indications from China of several cases of unusual pneumonia in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people. Taiwan also alerted WHO.
On January 7, officials announced they had identified a new virus and quickly after that indications of spread outside China and death related figures were confirmed.
It was quite shocking that on 14 January, WHO put out a tweet citing preliminary Chinese studies finding “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission”. It was issued on the same day the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, gave a press briefing in Geneva warning of precisely the opposite; the potential for rapid spread.

On 22 January, the WHO emergency committee convened to make a pivotal decision on whether to advise the organisation to send a formal red alert for the world.
It did not happen as they were split, so they delayed a week in the hope new data might create a consensus. China argued against declaring an emergency but could not have carried the argument alone. An international health emergency was declared a week later, on 30 January.

Tedros, Director-General of WHO tirelessly praised China and Xi leadership, hailing Beijing’s transparency despite the critical early weeks when the authorities tried to cover up the extent of the problem in Wuhan.

Here comes my main blame for WHO.
As usual such diplomatic flattery was the price of ensuring Chinese cooperation with information and WHO site visits. Tedros also complimented Trump in a March 23 tweet, claiming he was doing “a great job in the fight against Covid-19”.

WHO primary care should be saving life and not exercising undue diplomacy, when diplomacy here means lack of transparency in relaying medical information about a pandemic to the world. In such existential crisis public relation should not take center stage.

WHO has been continuously using the numbers issued by countries as confirmed data without any reflection or analysis.
It disregarded the mass graves in Iran, accepted that Syria did not register any cases, agreed to the small numbers of infection in Africa, and much more.
They do not point that these numbers are flawed because testing is not available or implemented or that some governments are repressing the broadcasting of information.
They do not take into account or point out that in some countries old people just die at home without being included in death rates.

People consider WHO as an authority and accept the numbers issued as Bible or Koran. The result is that in many countries and Lebanon is a good example, the line is ''we are doing better than Europe and the US''. It is nice to believe we are doing better than countries considered as 'more advanced'.
In reality the numbers and rates are flawed as democratic countries respect access to information, and countries such as Germany and Austria have been testing to a very high percentage of the population.

The problem in accepting WHO numbers without analysis, gives the citizens of countries that do not test or censure results, a false sense of safety which could lead to high unreported death rates and a possibility of increasing the life of the pandemic.

What will happen when the crisis is supposedly contained in Europe and the US while the rest of the world has no proper evaluation of infection rates?
New walls and self isolation of whole countries or region?

It is the role of the WHO to take preventive measures at all levels, and it is not happening.

Monday, April 13, 2020

13 of April, a memory or a never ending saga for Lebanon?

Clear heavens, a brisk breeze, and happiness are my recollections of April 13 1975. We were a carefree group of university students picnicking in the northern mountains of Lebanon. Lebanese, Palestinians, Americans, Maronite, Shiites, and Sunnites basking in the sun, side by side with no worries or afterthoughts. Then we heard the news, and the world turned upside down and the saga seems never ending.

In 2005, after the 14th of March, I thought it was a new beginning and wrote the article Long-absent hope returns to Lebanon. The revolution failed.
In 2019, the 17 of October movement brought new hope. The movement seems to have failed again.

Today, it is all about Lebanon defaulting on it's debt and capital controls. A Cabinet of so called experts that seems to lead from behind, the rise of the culture of corruption, and the fall of the political class.
It is the ultimate erosion of the essence of Lebanon, once called the Switzerland or Paris of the Orient.
It looks like a downward trend towards the end of  free economy and with it Freedom and Democracy.
Add to it  Covid-19 and the saga continues, and hope seems far far away.

Copyright (c) 2005 The Daily Star

Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Long-absent hope returns to Lebanon

By Khatoun Haidar
Special to The Daily Star

April 13, 1975, is a date that represents, for most of us Lebanese who are above 45 years of age, a frontier separating the often idealized Lebanon of before the war, and the insufferable reality of after April 13. For the youth of Lebanon, April 13 is just a controversial historical date. For them there is no dividing line; they grew up in a Lebanon ravaged by war, still suffering the sequels of occupation and a deep sectarian partition. A country where ambition is curbed and hope scarce
This would have been a perfect introductory paragraph to a piece commemorating April 13, if I was asked to write it before February 14. Today I cannot ignore the change, the atmosphere of revival, and the fact that more than half of the Lebanese population, waving the flag, took to the streets in two peaceful demonstrations. I cannot ignore the loud voice of the silent majority, and the strong participation of women and the youth. I cannot disregard the sight of two women standing side by side at Hariri's last resting place, one reading the Muslim prayer and the other performing the sign of the cross. I cannot neglect the reaction of defiance and the stress on national unity that followed four criminal explosions that targeted Christian areas. One has often dreamed of renewal, but never dared to imagine one. Today it is possible, the Lebanese people just need to reach for it, and then maybe April 13, 2005 will be a new frontier, that of the rebirth of Lebanon.
I am sure that many dismiss these signs as emotional reactions, and insist that the situation is much more complex than the popular mood. This is true in some way, yet it is not pure naivete to observe the manifestations of discontent and to measure the pulse of the population. Regimes that dismiss the well-being of their population by imposing an iron-handed approach to governing do so at their own risk. In fact, the mood of the Lebanese before and after the Hariri assassination takes root in the political developments that followed the Taif Agreement.
The Lebanese civil war that started on April 13, 1975 was officially ended on October 22, 1989, by the Arab League, sponsoring the Taif Agreement. By then, the Lebanese were weary and tired from a series of armed conflicts that at first took root in deep internal divisions but then became regional in nature. The end of the armed conflict did not bring the civil war to a real conclusion. There was no national reconciliation effort on the popular level, and Israel maintained its occupation of South Lebanon, which made the Syrian presence in Lebanon a de facto reality that nobody could contest without seeming to side with the enemy. Given this reality it would have been naive to expect the emergence of an independent democratic Lebanon.
In theory, Taif restored to Lebanon its Constitution, that guarantees freedoms and democracy. But under the pretext of national security necessities the country was ruled for the last 15 years by a false, imposed national consensus that destroyed accountability, the prime basis of democracy. The choices of ministers became a reflection of sectarian power centers and foreign intervention, resulting at all political junctions in deadlock. The parliamentary institution lost its meaning when deputies started falling in line when it came to the ministerial vote of confidence or presidential elections, whatever their previously declared positions. People felt powerless and many gave up on the electoral system.
Then in the year 2000, the South was liberated from Israeli occupation, and there was hope in the air, but soon it became clear that the status quo was here to stay, and that the country was sinking deeper under Syrian control. The signs of an organized effort to erode the few remaining liberties became more pronounced. This demise of democracy was exacerbated by a deep feeling of isolation as the international community showed a total lack of concern. The sense of hopelessness became stronger and young people had only one dream: leave the country.
Buried under this hopelessness was anger. The anger exploded when Hariri was assassinated. People took peacefully to the streets, the prime minister resigned, and the international community started paying attention. Out of it came a feeling of empowerment and hope.
For me this hope is embodied in the commune-like freedom tents in the middle of Beirut. There you find hundreds of youth of all religious sects that have been living there since the Hariri assassination. They organize daily activities under strict rules of behavior and you often find students from opposing parties communicating, building a basis for national reconciliation. School children visit and try to understand. The hope is that this generation, whatever happens, will never forget this experience.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Is Austria winning the war against coronavirus?

After the Austrian government took increasingly drastic measures in March to contain the coronavirus, the country successfully flattened the curve in April, and gradually reopened shops, schools and restaurants again in May. Life in Vienna got back to something like normality with summer arriving in June.

Now, with cases rising again in Austria – but being tested, tracked and traced – society is trying to find a new balance between containing the virus and living daily life.
With this final post, I close this blog.
Austria won the battle, will it win the war, remains to be seen.

Clearly face masks should have remained mandatory

July 8, 2020:
“This is not the path we envisioned to tread,” said Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg (ÖVP) when announcing renewed official travel warnings for several countries in Southeastern and Eastern Europe today.
After an uptick in new cases in Upper Austria and other regions, the number of new coronavirus infections per 100,000 inhabitants now stands at 1.1 at the national level. A total of 1,086 people in Austria have an infective coronavirus infection.
Schallenberg pointed out that “more and more recent cases can be traced” to people traveling back and forth between countries, hence he issued an “urgent appeal” not travel there at the moment.

June 30, 2020:
More than 80 new coronavirus cases were registered in Austria in the last 24 hours, the highest number in several weeks.
With active coronavirus cases in Vienna stable around 272 in the last weeks, case numbers in other regions have recently been on the rise again. Concretely, the federal states of Upper Austria (124), Lower Austria (101), Styria (32) and Salzburg (32) have seen an uptick of cases.

June 20
The London-based Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) judged the public policy response of mostly advanced OECD countries to the pandemic in a new index.  Austria shares the 2nd place on the index with Germany and behind just New Zealand, among a number of mostly rich countries that were analyzed.
The policy responses of the UK, Italy, Spain and Belgium were judged as “poor,” landing the countries at the bottom of the list.

One wonders if it is smart to ease travel restrictions when New Zealand who celebrated being Covid-19 free a week ago registered today 2 new cases; two British ladies who managed to circumvent prevention measures and just roamed around the country undetected.
On June 15, Austrian Airlines (AUA) will resume scheduled flights on Monday. The AUA will start to fly to 20 destinations in Europe, flights to long-distance destinations will resume on July 1.

By 6 June Austria seems to have contained the virus. Things are reopening and they are getting back to something like normal life.
Yet people are warned that when you let down your guard there could be a resurgence of infections. 
Austrians cannot be complacent. Relaxing social distancing measures too quickly and permitting “superspreader” events are the leading causes for multiple waves. 
The good news is that they can substantially reduce the magnitude of a second wave or prevent it by social distancing practices, wearing face masks, hand washing, and limiting the number of superspreader events.
Mass testing for active cases and for people who have already had COVID-19 along with contact tracing, rapid identification of new clusters and immediate isolation of potentially infected people will be crucial for preventing the next wave.
If we can’t avoid the second wave, we need to prepare for it, and that means ensuring that there’s an ample supply of personal protective equipment, ventilators, medications, testing kits, and qualified healthcare workers. Austria is well prepared at this level. 

A few tips to help prevent and/or prepare for a second wave

  • If you’ve been in contact with someone you know has COVID-19, or you think that you have symptoms, call the coronavirus hotline and immediately isolate yourself.
  • Keep washing or sanitizing your hands, and don’t touch your face if your hands aren’t clean.
  • Stock up on face masks and wear them in public and crowded places.
  • Get your yearly flu shot to reduce your risk of being sick with the flu and COVID-19.
  • Work from home as much as you can because there is less chance of contracting the virus when you’re home, and fewer people in public places also reduce viral spread.
  • Avoid crowds and superspreader events.
  • Find a new way to greet friends and family without touching them by waving, putting your hand on heart, blowing a kiss to them, air-kissing, or bowing.

June 6, 2020:
Only 17 people are currently in an intensive care unit (ICU) for the coronavirus in all of Austria. The total number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals fell to 72.
Travel between Austria, Slovenia, Czechia and Hungary is now possible without restrictions. Austria opened the borders to all neighboring countries  except Italy. For Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary the same rules as before the pandemic will apply.

Calculations by the Technical University of Vienna (TU Wien) have shown the impact of the relatively early lockdown in Austria.
On March 16, the country shut down most of its public life and citizens massively reduced social interactions (by up to 90%).
Had the lockdown occurred seven days later, up to four times more cases of coronavirus would have occurred in Austria at the end of March (40,000 instead of 10,000 in reality), leading also to up to four times more patients needed intensive care (an estimated 1,000 in ICUs instead of the 250 people in intensive care in reality).
The researchers thus underline how early actions helped the country get through the crisis without overburdening the healthcare system. They underline that contact tracing and constant testing is now crucial to keep the situation under control

June 1, 2020:
Keeping our fingers crossed!

The number of people in Austria suffering from COVID-19 continues its steep downward trend. At the beginning of April, there were 9,200 known active infections in Austria; at the beginning of May, there were 1,800 patients; now, at the beginning of June, this number fell to 378 active infections.

Update May 25, 2020:
ٍSeems that until now the ''new normal'' is working.
At Vienna’s AKH General Hospital, Europe’s first successful lung transplant for a COVID-19 patient was performed. The 45-year old patient with no pre-existing medical conditions fell ill with the coronavirus eight weeks ago. The disease damaged her lungs so much that doctors said she could not have survived without a transplant. Now, she’s recovering and “doing doing brilliantly” given the circumstances, the doctors at the AKH say.
Follow up, testing, tracing, taking measure seems the way to go.
New coronavirus infections in Vienna have in recent weeks mostly taken place in known family clusters, announced the city’s bureau of sanitation. “The origins of very few cases remain unresolved,” said the director of the bureau, Ursual Karnthaler.
Several cases of coronavirus have emerged in distribution centers of the Austrian Post in Inzersdorf und Hagenbrunn in recent weeks. The City of Vienna has thus started to preemptively test all workers and replace them temporarily with mobilized militiamen. Two soldiers also tested positive for COVID-19. All soldiers will be tested too, now.
Facing covid-19 is not only medical in nature
The Austrian government will set up a fund of €1 billion to the country’s municipalities to strengthen the regional economy after the coronavirus slump. 

Update 18 May
+0/3% increase in infection rate has been stable since mid April, the time of the first easing of lockdown. But the RO increased for the first time from 0.78 to 1.07.
Still the opening plans remain the same with the return of 700,000 students to school under very strict measures. Outside pools are open with strict measures.
I wonder what this means. For schools it might be possible, but for swimming?!
Does not make sense. I hope it is not a wrong decision.
But then no real worries as medical system and hospital are working at regular rate, so in case of an outbreak, the country can cope.

Update 15 May
Vienna municipality promotes eating out
Stage 3 opens restaurants today. Many efforts are made to promote the economy. If this efforts succeeds without starting a new wave, then Austria is an experience in handling coronavirus that needs to be studied and considered all over the world.
Update 5 May
Inspirational speech by the President of Austria
Caught my attention is that he addressed ''Dear Austrians and all people who live in Austria!''
He mentioned culture before economy ''The medicine we swallow is bitter: isolation, restriction of personal rights, widespread standstill of our cultural life and economy.''
He presented a reformist vision of the future with social and environmental justice. ''I believe in seizing the opportunity in the crisis, overcoming unemployment and making the turn towards a sustainable economy. With nature, not against it.''
Making travel easier from and to Vienna airport
From Monday passengers can have a molecular biological (polymerise chain reaction or PCR) COVID-19 test at the airport, and get the result in two to three hours, the airport said.  
The airport tests, can also be taken by passengers leaving Vienna to demonstrate their virus-free status at their destination.
"Air travel, whether business journeys or urgent trips...will thus become safer and easier," 
Working on relaunching tourism
 An initiative, proposed by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, aims to provide a way for countries, many of which are heavily dependent on tourism, to begin opening borders without the fear of letting in virus carriers. 
The proposal comes after the leaders of the seven nations took part in a videoconference on April 24 in which they discussed various strategies to deal with the virus and to gradually open the countries’ economies after weeks of tight restrictions.
The countries involved are until this date are Austria, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Greece, Czechia, and Israel.

Update 1st of May
The number are still decreasing.
The Coronavirus in Austria & Vienna | Re-emerging From Quarantine

Update 20 April
Keeping my fingers crossed.
The number of active coronavirus cases in Austria has been dropping fast as a proportion of tested vs confirmed cases. In Vienna, there are now three times more recovered patients than active cases. Death rates per 100,000 is 3 times lower than Sweden and 5 times lower than UK. 
Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) called a decline of this speed and magnitude “unique in Europe.”
The plan for the 'new normal' has been summarized for ease of information 

In Austria as of April 11, 2020:

  • The daily number of people cured from the coronavirus in Austria has outstripped those of newly positively tested cases for several days now – that means the total number of infected people, as reflected by official testing, is in decline.
  • Of a total of 13,561 positively tested cases of coronavirus in Austria:
  • 6,620 people (48.82% of the total) are currently infected
  • 6,604 people (48.70%) have already recovered
  • 337 people (2.49%) passed away with or due to the disease
  • Out of active cases, 1,036 people are currently hospitalized, 246 of which are in intensive care
  • A third of the 1,058 intensive care units (ICUs) in Vienna’s hospitals is available, as of 9 April. Austrian hospitals have also accepted intensive care patients from France in recent days.

Austria is a small country so rarely mentioned when the media talks about Covid-19.
Yet it is a good example of what we can do right on more than a sector or level.

First of all, and most importantly , the health system is very good and compared to the Western world it has one of the highest rate of ICU per person and no shortage in protective gear for medical staff.

Second a plan of action was set since the beginning, self-isolation instructions until 13 April. So people knew what they had to face. In parallel, very high levels of testing and evaluation. Noting that testing done in residence, people did not have to go to hospitals.
On Monday, April 6, the government announced that the current measures have been prolonged until the end of April and unveiled the plan for the coming months.
Starting April 14, small stores (<400 square meters of size) and DIY and garden centers may reopen under certain restrictions (with only a small number of customers at any one time).
A protection for face and mouth (masks or scarfs) will also become mandatory on public transport.
Starting May 1, stores, shopping malls and hairdressers may reopen.
Starting mid-May, restaurants, cafes and hotels may reopen.
All public events will remain cancelled until the end of June.
No school until mid-May and universities will remain closed for the rest of the semester.
If infection number start to rise again, measures can also be toughened once again (Kurz called it a “Notbremse” or emergency break).
Austria’s Bundesgärten (federal gardens) will open on April 14, with controls at entrances to prevent overcrowding.
People are aurgently requested not to travel for celebrating Easter with their families in different households, to keep the infection rate down.
Further measures will be evaluated at the end of April.
Third, and since the start assistance for workers. Anybody can apply for short term unemployment guaranteeing 90% of salary  and this applied for self-employed. So people did not have to worry about their livelihood and we did not see any people breaking the self isolation because they needed to work. Also businesses did not panic. For example
Austria’s Federal Railways (ÖBB) have put 10,000 employees on Kurzarbeit (short-time work).  
The federal government announced that they will guarantee 80-100% of emergency loans for businesses for a period of up to five years.
Four, and maybe due to trusting their government and a natural cultural tendency to comply with laws and recommendations, Austrian did and are complying to the letter with self isolation regulation.

Let's hope that the slow come back to normal first step on April 14 succeeds and there is no surge in infections.